Alexander Mosaic
Overview
 
The Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is a famous Roman
Roman mosaic
A Roman mosaic is any mosaic, made in Ancient Rome or by Roman artists outside of Roman frontiers. The Romans introduced exquisite mosaics in their domestic architecture and in the places of worship. The earliest examples of Roman floor mosaics are dated to the late Republican period and are...

 floor mosaic
Mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 originally from the House of the Faun
House of the Faun
The House of the Faun , built during the 2nd century BC, was one of the largest, and most impressive private residences in Pompeii, Italy, and housed many great pieces of art...

 in Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia
Darius III of Persia
Darius III , also known by his given name of Codomannus, was the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia from 336 BC to 330 BC....

 and measures 5.82 x 3.13m (19 ft x 10 ft 3in).
The mosaic illustrates a battle in which Alexander faced and attempted to capture or kill Darius.
Encyclopedia
The Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is a famous Roman
Roman mosaic
A Roman mosaic is any mosaic, made in Ancient Rome or by Roman artists outside of Roman frontiers. The Romans introduced exquisite mosaics in their domestic architecture and in the places of worship. The earliest examples of Roman floor mosaics are dated to the late Republican period and are...

 floor mosaic
Mosaic
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. It may be a technique of decorative art, an aspect of interior decoration, or of cultural and spiritual significance as in a cathedral...

 originally from the House of the Faun
House of the Faun
The House of the Faun , built during the 2nd century BC, was one of the largest, and most impressive private residences in Pompeii, Italy, and housed many great pieces of art...

 in Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

. It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia
Darius III of Persia
Darius III , also known by his given name of Codomannus, was the last king of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia from 336 BC to 330 BC....

 and measures 5.82 x 3.13m (19 ft x 10 ft 3in).

Battle

The mosaic illustrates a battle in which Alexander faced and attempted to capture or kill Darius. Alexander defeated the Persian leader twice, first at the 333 BC Battle of Issus
Battle of Issus
The Battle of Issus occurred in southern Anatolia, in November 333 BC. The invading troops, led by the young Alexander of Macedonia, defeated the army personally led by Darius III of Achaemenid Persia in the second great battle for primacy in Asia...

 and two years later at the Battle of Gaugamela
Battle of Gaugamela
The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. The battle, which is also called the Battle of Arbela, resulted in a massive victory for the ancient Macedonians and led to the fall of the Achaemenid Empire.-Location:Darius chose a flat, open plain...

. The work is traditionally believed to show the Battle of Issus.

The mosaic is held to be a copy of either a painting by Apelles
Apelles
Apelles of Kos was a renowned painter of ancient Greece. Pliny the Elder, to whom we owe much of our knowledge of this artist rated him superior to preceding and subsequent artists...

, a contemporary with Alexander himself, or of a lost late 4th century BC fresco
Fresco
Fresco is any of several related mural painting types, executed on plaster on walls or ceilings. The word fresco comes from the Greek word affresca which derives from the Latin word for "fresh". Frescoes first developed in the ancient world and continued to be popular through the Renaissance...

 by the painter Philoxenos of Eretria. The latter is mentioned by Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 (XXXV, 110) as a commission for the Macedonian
Macedonia (Greece)
Macedonia is a geographical and historical region of Greece in Southern Europe. Macedonia is the largest and second most populous Greek region...

 king Cassander
Cassander
Cassander , King of Macedonia , was a son of Antipater, and founder of the Antipatrid dynasty...

.

Alexander and Darius

Despite being partially ruined, the two main figures are easy to recognize.
  • The portrait of Alexander is one of his most famous. Alexander's breastplate depicts Medusa, the famous Gorgon
    Gorgon
    In Greek mythology, the Gorgon was a terrifying female creature. The name derives from the Greek word gorgós, which means "dreadful." While descriptions of Gorgons vary across Greek literature, the term commonly refers to any of three sisters who had hair of living, venomous snakes, and a...

    , and his wavy hair is typical of royal portraiture as established in Greek art of the fourth century B.C. He is portrayed sweeping into battle at the left, on his famous horse, Bucephalos, and focusing his gaze on the Persian leader.
  • Darius is shown in a chariot. He seems to be desperately commanding his frightened charioteer to flee the battle, while stretching out his hand either as a mute gesture to Alexander, or possibly after throwing a javelin
    Javelin
    A Javelin is a light spear intended for throwing. It is commonly known from the modern athletic discipline, the Javelin throw.Javelin may also refer to:-Aviation:* ATG Javelin, an American-Israeli civil jet aircraft, under development...

    . He has a worried expression on his face. The charioteer is whipping the horses as he tries to escape.


The Persian soldiers behind him have expressions of determination and consternation.

Other features

Darius's brother Oxyathres
Oxyathres of Persia
Oxyathres was a brother of the Persian king Darius III Codomannus...

 is also portrayed, sacrificing himself to save the King.

Radical foreshortening - as in the central horse, seen from behind - and the use of shading to convey a sense of mass and volume enhance the naturalistic effect of the scene. Repeated diagonal spears, clashing metal, and the crowding of men and horses evoke the din of battle. At the same time, action is arrested by dramatic details such as the fallen horse and the Persian soldier in the foreground who watches his own death throes reflected in a shield.

Production

The mosaic is made of about one and a half million tiny colored tiles called tesserae, arranged in gradual curves called opus vermiculatum
Opus vermiculatum
Opus vermiculatum is a type of mosaic which draws an outline around shapes using tesserae. This can be one or more rows and then contrasted in the background, typically with Opus tessellatum. The outline created is often light and offset by a dark background for greater contrast...

,
(literally, "worm work," because they seem to replicate the slow motion of a crawling worm). The mosaic is an unusually detailed work for a private residence and was probably commissioned by a wealthy person or family. Another theory states that it might have been an originally Hellenic mosaic that was looted from Greece and carried off to Rome. Italian archaeologist Fausto Levi supports the first theory.

Modern history

The mosaic was rediscovered on October 24 in Pompeii
Pompeii
The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Along with Herculaneum, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning...

, 1831 and in the September of 1843 moved to Naples
Naples
Naples is a city in Southern Italy, situated on the country's west coast by the Gulf of Naples. Lying between two notable volcanic regions, Mount Vesuvius and the Phlegraean Fields, it is the capital of the region of Campania and of the province of Naples...

, where it is currently preserved on a wall (not as floor as it was found) in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale
Naples National Archaeological Museum
The Naples National Archaeological Museum is a museum in Naples, southern Italy, at the northwest corner of the original Greek wall of the city of Neapolis. The museum contains a large collection of Roman artifacts from Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum...

.

Modern copy

In 2003 the International Center for the Study and Teaching of Mosaic (CISIM) in Ravenna
Ravenna
Ravenna is the capital city of the Province of Ravenna in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and the second largest comune in Italy by land area, although, at , it is little more than half the size of the largest comune, Rome...

, Italy, proposed to create a copy of the mosaic. When they had received approval, the mosaic master Severo Bignami and his eight-person team took a large photograph of the mosaic, made a tracing of the image with a dark marker and created a negative impression of the mosaic.

The team composed the mosaic in sections in 44 clay frames, trying to preserve the pieces of the mosaic in the exact positions they are in the original mosaic. They had to keep the plates wet all the time. Then they pressed a tissue on the clay to create an image of the outlines of the mosaic in the clay.

The team recreated the mosaic with about 2 million pieces of various marble types. When they had placed all the pieces, they covered the result with a layer of glue and gauze and pulled it out of the clay. They placed each section on synthetic concrete and then united the sections with the compound of glasswool and plastic.

The project took 22 months and a cost equivalent to US$216,000. The copy was installed in the House of the Faun in 2005.
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